Navigating Life with Advanced Cancer: Patient Insights

Navigating Life with Advanced Cancer: Patient Insights

Navigating Life with Advanced Cancer: Patient Insights

Living with advanced cancer like mesothelioma poses unique challenges. Patients often experience prolonged survival with uncertainties about their future health. A recent qualitative study explored what these patients find helpful in navigating their lives.

Reclaiming a Sense of Control

One of the central themes in the study was the importance of reclaiming a sense of control. Patients described how their initial diagnosis of cancer had completely disrupted their lives, leading to a loss of control. To regain autonomy, Patients relied on several strategies:

  1. Relying on the Medical Team: Patients highlighted the importance of personalized and transparent communication with healthcare professionals. Trusting their medical team and staying informed about their disease and treatment helped them feel more in control.
  2. Increasing Knowledge: Understanding their disease and treatment options was empowering for patients. They actively sought information to comprehend their situation better and make informed decisions.
  3. Arranging Practical Matters: Facing the uncertainty of their prognosis, patients took practical steps to prepare for potential disease progression or end-of-life matters. This included exploring alternative treatments, creating a will, and ensuring financial matters were in order.
  4. Engaging in Routine Tasks: Maintaining a sense of normalcy through routine tasks helped patients cope with the challenges of their illness. Simple activities like getting dressed properly contributed to their well-being.
  5. Involving the Social Environment: Patients found it helpful to share their experiences and concerns with close others. While some chose to shield their social circle from their illness, those who shared felt supported and less isolated.

Altering One’s Perspective

Another important theme was the need to alter one’s perspective. Patients described how adopting a broader view helped them cope with negative thoughts and uncertainties about the future:

  1. Not Taking Things for Granted: Patients acknowledged the importance of appreciating life and not taking their health for granted. They expressed gratitude for the effective treatments that enabled them to live longer.
  2. Acknowledging Dying as Part of Life: Facing a life-threatening illness made patients more aware of the finiteness of life. Discussing death with others helped them come to terms with this reality and normalize the topic.
  3. Seeing Uncertainty as an Opportunity: While living with uncertainty was challenging, some patients viewed it as an opportunity for new possibilities. They found optimism in the uncertainty, motivating them to endure treatments and check-ups.

Reshaping Life According to One’s Values

Lastly, patients discussed how they reshaped their lives according to their values, focusing on what mattered most to them:

  1. Evaluating Life Priorities: The experience of cancer prompted patients to reevaluate their priorities. They focused on spending time with loved ones and engaging in meaningful activities.
  2. Being Present in the Moment: Living in the present helped patients cope with the uncertainty of the future. It allowed them to find joy in everyday moments despite their illness.
  3. Balancing Rest and Activity: Managing their energy levels was crucial for patients. Finding a balance between rest and activity helped them feel more like their healthy selves and less like patients.
  4. Setting Goals: Setting short-term and long-term goals gave patients a sense of direction and purpose. It helped them focus on what they wanted to achieve in their lives.
  5. Adapting Activities: Adapting activities to match their capabilities allowed patients to continue doing things they enjoyed. It helped them maintain a sense of normalcy and well-being.


Patients use a variety of strategies to navigate life with advanced cancer and a long-term response. By reclaiming a sense of control, altering their perspective, and reshaping their lives according to their values, patients find ways to balance their sick and healthy roles.

Healthcare professionals can support patients by recognizing their orientation (feeling sick or healthy) and actively involving close others in the care process. This study sheds light on the resilience and adaptability of patients, offering valuable insights for improving support and care for this unique group of cancer patients.


Zwanenburg, Laura C., Marije L. van der Lee, José J. Koldenhof, Karijn P. M. Suijkerbuijk, and Melanie P. J. Schellekens. “What Patients with Advanced Cancer Experience as Helpful in Navigating Their Life with a Long-Term Response: A Qualitative Study.” Supportive Care in Cancer 32, no. 4 (March 12, 2024): 222.


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